Comprehensive Examination

The MPA comprehensive exam (hereafter referred to as COMPS) is designed to test the student’s knowledge, skills, and ability in the professional field and discipline of study. It is the primary learning assessment tool by which program faculty determine and address areas in need of improvement through curriculum change.


MPA Faculty administer Comps exams once every major semester. Eligible students include those who have completed the core curriculum courses. Such students must apply online to take Comps after requesting a degree audit from the Registrar's Office to verify that they have satisfied all core requirements.They then begin preparations by assembling the course materials in a systematic fashion. The MPA Director invites them to meet with faculty twice during the semester to discuss Comps expectations and procedures. Discussions at the meetings include sample questions, study guides, and techniques of answering them. Students must answer and pass three questions subdivided as follows: [1] Theory and history of the field, [2] Practical tools and skills, [3] Applications and Cases. Acceptable responses would be ones that thoughtfully address all aspects of the questions, connect them logically, and accurately cites the relevant literature. Students have two chances to take and pass Comps. A student may retake the failed portion of the examination or the whole test only during the next scheduled administration of the examination. A student who fails a second time is dismissed from the program.

Students who are unable to pass the first time must work with faculty to prepare adequately by addressing Comps performance feedback. They must retake Comps during the next cycle.


Students should carefully plan their course work and examination scheduling in consultation with the MPA Director. Students have a chance to do well after a suitable period of reading, writing, and consulting with faculty to assure that their preparations are on track and in good shape. Preparation for the COMPs begins on the first class day and students should follow the recommendations and advice of the MPA Director and faculty. The following contains pieces of advice for preparing for Comps:

Save all papers, exams, and notes, from all your classes

Students should keep a copy of all assignments, papers, and exams in all courses taken during coursework This will be of tremendous help during your COMPS preparation. It is recommended that students should keep an annotated bibliography or source of references with major themes and key contributors. This should make it easy to review all the material and be able to comprehensively create cohesiveness with the knowledge gain without a panic attack.

Collect classic and contemporary articles

Start collecting articles that might be helpful later. The “Classics of Public Administration” by Shafritz and Hyde is a good source of significant articles. Take a look at the latest editions of PAR (Public Administration Review) to read current themes of interest. Photocopy articles, news clips and such items that you think can be helpful later.

Arrange your ideas according to major topics

During each semester break, go over your notes, papers, collected articles and arrange them in a way that makes sense to you. You could have all the articles, commentaries by Waldo in one file. Or you could have all the papers about reinventing government in one place. You should know how they are arranged and where they are. To keep up with the issues, your notes need to be at your fingertips as well.

Start preparing essays on major topics

You will have had to write papers for a lot of courses. Take a look at the papers, review them and identify missing information or important authors within the Public Administration’s canon. If you do this, you will have your own little summaries.

Work in groups

Different study styles are appropriate for different people. Even if group work is not suited for you, meet with your cohorts and discuss topics, preparation, and probable questions. You can exchange books and articles and find out about what you are missing from your colleagues. Discussing your own understanding of the topics and or writings with others in a different style of their own will result in a cohesive more clear understanding for all of you.

Utilize faculty

Pick the brains of your professors. Talk to them; ask them for suggestions, reading lists, and anything you can think of. Each and every one of the faculty has gone through the COMPS process and their insights might help you a great deal.


Department of Social Sciences
5201 University Boulevard, 313J Canseco Hall, Laredo, TX 78041-1900
Phone: 956.326.2613 E-mail: pharuna@tamiu.edu